The biggest difference between a book bag and a backpack is how we carry them. Book bags are carried in front of us by handles and backpacks are slung over our shoulders to rest on our backs.

But bulk book bags and custom backpacks have many similar qualities, which is why people often get their names mixed up. Each can haul books, lunch, gym shoes and just about anything else we need to go with us.

So which do you need?

Book bag vs. backpack

Let’s take a look at the many similarities and differences between book bags and backpacks.

What is a book bag?

Merriam-Webster defines a book bag as “a bag or sack often with a handle or strap that is used for holding books and other items.”

Book bags, often called tote bags, were used in the early 20th century to haul ice to homes. Today these reusable bags are increasingly used to carry groceries to and from stores.

The eco-friendly trend to replace one-use plastic bags started decades ago. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 4.13 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were generated in 2015 (the latest data available). Only about 12.8 percent of those items were recycled.

Totally Promotional has an extensive selection of reusable tote bags. Our custom tote bags offer a variety of options for many uses.

Here are a few of our most popular book bag styles:

Cotton Canvas Book Tote

Custom Cotton Canvas Book Tote
  • 12 oz. canvas material
  • Full side and bottom gusset for extra space
  • Comfortable web handles
  • 10″W x 12″H x 3″D

Polypropylene Economy Tote

Custom Polypropylene Economy Tote Bag
  • 80-gram non-woven material
  • Eco- and budget-friendly
  • 22-inch reinforced handles
  • 13 1/2″W x 14″H

Polypropylene Grocery Tote

Custom Polypropylene Grocery Tote
  • Bottom insert for added stability
  • 20-inch reinforced handles
  • Extra large interior space
  • Water-resistant polypropylene
  • 13″W x 14 3/4″H x 10″D

Getaway Cotton Tote Bag

Custom Getaway Cotton Tote Bag
  • 8 oz. cotton
  • Super-soft material
  • 22-inch carry handles
  • 13″W x 15″H

What is a backpack?

The grammar geeks at Merriam-Webster describe a backpack as “a piece of equipment designed for use while being carried on the back.”

History is a little fuzzy on the date, but backpacks — originally called knapsacks — were used before the 1800s. The term backpack didn’t come into play until the early 1900s.

The first backpack resembling those today was invented by Camille Poirier of Duluth in 1882, according to Recreational Equipment Inc. The design included straps and buckles to secure it to the back.

The backpack we all know and love has evolved from its original purpose to carry hunting and other supplies in the wilderness. Today, the all-purpose backpack is an essential item for school, travel and work.

The styles we currently offer are custom sling backpacks, laptop backpacks, bulk hiking backpacks, promotional drawstring backpacks and trendy backpack coolers.

Here are a few of Totally Promotional’s most popular backpack styles and their special features:

Roll-Up Polyester Backpack

Custom Roll-Up Polyester Backpack
  • Rolls up for convenient storage
  • 2 side-mesh pockets
  • Snap buckle and strap to secure rolled bag
  • 15″W x 14″H

Downtown Sling Backpack

Custom Sling Backpack
  • Zippered front pocket
  • Padded sling strap with VELCRO®
  • Media/phone pocket
  • 16″H x 13″W x 6″L

All bags at Totally Promotional can be customized with logos, messages and designs of your choice. Our abundance of product and imprint color options make it easy to match a company, school or organization theme.

The choice of bags is yours!

Totally Promotional offers a wide range of styles and prices to fit every budget. Looking for something special? Check out our brand-name bags!

I hope I made your decision a little easier for you by explaining the difference between a book bag and a backpack. Each has its place in history and a huge future in our lifestyles today.

Start shopping for your favorite bags today!

Shop All Totally Promotional Bags

Shelley Grieshop is a former newspaper journalist who earned more than a dozen Associated Press awards for her in-depth research and writing skills. In May 2016, she joined Totally Promotional as a creative writer. She currently writes company blogs about branding, marketing, logos, wedding planning and much more. One of her life goals is to teach people when to use hyphens and apostrophes.


  1. Thank you so much for this detailed article on the difference between the two items. You have tremendously helped close a debate between my wife and I. Thank for publishing this article to the internet for our free enjoyment and education. Have a wonderful day!

Write A Comment